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Lessons from China: Social protection over domestic stability

Publication Date : 16-01-2014

 

It is most appropriate and timely that China should broach issues which are central to a country’s development. As is known, China chose not to follow Soviet style development to the letter.

On the contrary, China was the first country in the communist world to attempt an amalgam of the socialist path to development and a degree of market economics.

The results are plain to see. China is experiencing phenomenal material progress and is a foremost global military power, but it is open to question whether she has ushered social peace, in the best sense of the phrase.

Domestic stability and the preservation of a country’s law and order are very important, but so is social protection or the safeguarding of a citizenry’s right to justice and equity. China’s President Xi Jinping is emphatic about this and the developing world in particular would do well to be receptive to this vital policy position.

People’s demands for their lawful interests must be properly handled, policies with a crucial impact on protecting people’s interests must be improved, the position of the law in solving conflicts should be strengthened, Xi was quoted as telling a forum of the Chinese Communist Party’s Political and Legal Affairs Commission recently.

Those quarters worldwide which are impressed by China’s growth performance - and this aspect of China’s advancement does need to be admired - should focus on this valuable piece of advice from the Chinese Head of State. Social protection needs to go hand- in-hand with internal stability.

As the experience of most developed countries testifies, social protection and domestic law and order are not mutually-exclusive. In those countries where Social Democracy has triumphed to a degree, social development exists comfortably alongside internal stability. In these cases there is no trade-off between the two. Some Scandinavian countries are a case in point.

One is compelled to recollect, in this context, that threadbare figure of speech, "the peace of the graveyard". Domestic stability could be achieved "through the barrel of a gun" and this is the case in many developing countries which have opted for authoritarian governance, with a corresponding dismantling of democracy.

To be sure, they have stability and social "peace" on account of their formidable armies and security agencies but it is an open question whether the rights of the people are respected and guaranteed by the state. This uneasy domestic calm is referred to as "the peace of the graveyard". That is, stability without public contentment; which latter could come mainly through an enjoyment of their most fundamental rights by the people.

It is most appropriate and timely that China should broach these issues which are central to a country’s development. As is known, China chose not to follow Soviet style development to the letter. On the contrary, China was the first country in the communist world to attempt an amalgam of the socialist path to development and a degree of market economics. The results are plain to see. China is experiencing phenomenal material progress and is a foremost global military power, but it is open to question whether she has ushered social peace, in the best sense of the phrase.

The matter which could cause some unease among China’s admirers is that she has given rise to an embarrassingly high number of billionaires and business tycoons – things that do not blend well with socialism and equitable growth. Besides, public sector corruption in particular seems to be inordinate. So, the Chinese development model has some serious flaws which need to be set right.

It is for these reasons that the Chinese President’s policy prescriptions need to be welcomed. He is not shying away from the bald realities of Chinese society. There has been lop-sided development to some extent and this must be rectified. Growth and the generation of wealth must be even and the pressing material needs of the people must be met on an equitable basis. This is the answer to crime and corruption, for instance.

The Chinese authorities could have overlooked or glossed over these developmental bottlenecks. After all, they possess the military means and the required law and order machinery to maintain the ‘peace’ at home. But the use of force to keep the ‘peace’ would only aggravate the frustrations of dissatisfied sections and compel them to fight back. This is a lesson of history China’s rulers know only too well. Therefore, getting back to one’s social-democratic roots, to the extent possible, would be best.

Yes, the way to manage the issues of development is Social Democracy and not communism. The latter course implies a degree of totalitarianism and this would be the anti-thesis of Social Democracy which combines growth and equity, while ensuring the people their basic rights and freedoms.

Accordingly, China’s development debate would need to be followed closely by us in South Asia. If we think security should take precedence over social development, we are very mistaken. The bolstering of a country’s security forces and law-enforcers at the cost of social contentment could prove quite counter-productive because we would be left with fascist states whose only skill would be the oppression of the people.

Rather than see ourselves, in Sri Lanka, as a "five star" democracy, we need to see ourselves as a fatally- flawed democracy. Sri Lanka is a democratic experiment which is coming undone. For Sri Lanka now, it is national security or ‘stability’ which is taking precedence over democratic development. Inviting foreign capital into this country for merely perceived wealth-generation would help enrich a few but the majority of the people are going to experience severe deprivation and this situation is a sound recipe for social unrest.

India is by far the most advanced and dynamic of South Asia’s democracies but she too would need to pay increasing attention to the need for greater social welfare. Today, the "Maoist" threat is India’s number one security issue and this insurrection has its roots in rural poverty. Here too, equitable growth is the answer.

It is hoped that democracy would perpetuate itself in Pakistan, following the successful completion of a term in office by a democratic administration for the first time in that country’s post-independence history. Democracies usually do not wage wars against each other and one could only hope for increasing democratic stability in Pakistan. But like India, Pakistan too is showing a positive inclination for accountable governance and this too is gratifying to democratic opinion in this region.

One of the worst blunders we in South Asia could make is to bask in the illusion that wealth-generation and security alone could answer our needs. As in the case of China, we need to rest our hopes in growth with equity.

 

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